Battlepanda: Our civilization in decline


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Our civilization in decline

ABD reports on the students she TAs at Decent U, many of whom are shocked to discovered that they let just anyone edit Wikipedia.
I think I've mentioned that I'm a TA for a freshman seminar this semester. The kids are all nice enough--your typical eager, bright-eyed first-years. But dear heavens, it's hard to get them out of "book report" mode and into "research paper" mode. I gave them a talk with suggestions for how to go about structuring their paper and so on. And then I spent a fair amount of time discussing what reference materials they might want to look at and which ones they should avoid. I clearly stated that encyclopedias (with the exception the music encyclopedias: New Grove and MGG) were not an acceptable source--I even threw in the "you're not in high school anymore" line.

And then I moved onto the evils of Wikipedia. "Anyone can add to it, so it's not a reliable reference," I said, which yielded wide eyes and a few incredulous "really?"s and "Are you serious?" Clearly, much of my class had availed themselves of Wikipedia in the past. I told them about a past experience grading papers: something odd jumped out at me, and when I looked at the citation, it was for Wikipedia. But it seemed wrong, so I went to Grove (written by actual music scholars), which directly contradicted what Wikipedia had said. So I of course asked the class: which source did I give more weight to in grading this paper?

Fast-forward to today: I was emailed a first rough draft from someone who's clearly on top of things (the paper's not due for another three weeks or so). Two-thirds of the citations are for three different Wikipedia articles and two encyclopedia articles (of the Britannica sort). Can I go bang my head on a wall now?
The kids these days...